Every summer all across the French Riviera coastline, the night sky is lit up by hundreds of spectacular colours and festive bangs to celebrate the balmy weather and the holiday season. The Principality of Monaco is no exception, since pretty much every evening around midnight, a short fireworks display is launched during the Sporting Club summer festival after each concert for the benefit of the viewing public who have paid for the privilege.
But in terms of fireworks, the centrepiece remains the Monaco International Fireworks Competition (officially the “Concours international de feux d’artifice pyromélodiques de Monaco”) which blocks off the whole town for 20 minutes of magic set to synchronised (the organisers hope!) music, highlighting the talents of fireworks artists from all around the world – obviously everything is free!
When enjoying the spectacular landing at Nice airport and approaching from the west, you are bound to notice the two small islands off the coast of Cannes, Ile Sainte Marguerite and Ile Saint Honorat, known collectively as the Iles de Lérins (along with two much smaller and uninhabited islands). Both car free islands offer a huge contrast to the hustle and bustle and frenetic pace of the French Riviera and in this article, I will focus on the smaller and less visited of the two, Ile Saint Honorat. Famed for its historical and still functioning medieval abbey run by Cistercian monks and for the special wines and liqueurs that they produce locally, this small island of just 40 hectares is full of bucolic charm and splendid views and can be visited all year round. Carry on reading this article to experience a total culture shock, just 25 minutes from the port of Cannes and for full photos of my visit, please visit the Ile Saint Honorat album on the French Riviera Blog Facebook page.
The terracotta roofs of Eze Village looking south towards Corsica, note the tiny cross marking the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs (protective coating because it was still technically winter when this photo was taken)
The sparkling Mediterranean sea, blue skies, soaring mountains and beautiful colours – these all represent the true essence of the French Riviera, encapsulated by the stunning village of Eze. A few weeks ago, I decided to take advantage of a spectacularly sunny Sunday afternoon to take a short drive to Eze Village and especially explore the Botanical Garden at its tip, mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t been up there for a while. The experience was beyond my wildest expectations and I was truly overwhelmed by the beauty of the setting and the peaceful atmosphere that filled me with positive energy after an exhausting month travelling around Europe. I therefore figured that I would share with you my feelings, impressions and some photos of this magical afternoon. This slightly more in-depth section on Eze Village can also be combined with the broader article I wrote quite a while ago about the Nietzsche trail so read on to find out more and live the dream, the French Riviera Dream!
The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the biggest and most prestigious regular event on the French Riviera calendar, ahead of the Cannes Film Festival and the Carnival of Nice. Each year, it brings a magical atmosphere to the Principality, really kick-starting the summer season with plenty of private parties on the yachts in the harbour, a very cosmopolitan atmosphere and huge amounts of visitors (and therefore VAT income for the Monegasque government!). Of course, the Grand Prix completely changes the face of the Principality for 3 months, as the roads are full of temporary grandstands, crash barriers, tyres and blockades which are prepared two months in advance and take a month to dismantle afterwards, so there are huge logistics behind the event, the statistics provided by the Automobile Club of Monaco are impressive (see the “presentation” tab). Since the turn of the millennium, there has also been a Historic Grand Prix, which runs every even-numbered year two weeks before the main race, rather interesting to remind spectators of the race’s heritage as the first Monaco Grand Prix was run in 1929, though the first official race in the Formula 1 calendar was in 1950. And in 2015, the first electric Grand Prix, run by FIA under the name “EPrix” took place took two weeks before the F1 event and now also runs every two years.
First impressions often count and for many cruise passengers visiting the French Riviera, the first glimpse of the region is of the beautiful fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer with its stunning ochre colours reflecting in the large bay, whilst others may wake up to a great view of the green peninsula of Cap Ferrat and its luxury villas with the rocky slopes of the Maritime Alps looming in the background.
Then after breakfast, they either take the shuttles to the cruise terminal and jump on a guided coach tour to “do” the French Riviera in a day with Eze, Monaco, Nice and perhaps Cannes (the mere thought of such a superficial visit makes me cringe), whilst the more independent minded walk straight to the train station and head off to Monaco or Nice. Of course, there’s nothing wrong at all with the second option, or even the first if you’re very limited for time and have deep pockets – however, Villefranche does have dollops of charm and is well worth an hour or two of your day to soak in the medieval atmosphere of the old town, explore the free museums in the imposing 16th century Citadel (castle), check out the surreal atmosphere of Jean Cocteau’s chapel on the harbour and especially enjoy the stunning views over the Cap Ferrat… All these added together make for a perfect French Riviera experience, so read on and follow my 1 hour whistle-stop walking tour to optimise your visit!
The city of Nice, lying directly on the Mediterranean Sea
Most visitors to the French Riviera will pass through Nice at one point or another, given its central location, the fact that it is by far the largest city of the region and its role as the main transportation hub of the region. But Nice is far more than just a transit zone, it’s honestly a very beautiful city which is well worth spending at least a day visiting. Here are some tips about what to see and do…
The summer season is fully upon us and the French Riviera is filling up with tourists: this means fireworks, music festivals, farniente beach time and outdoor dinners, amongst plenty of other activities, so here’s a quick guide on how to enjoy a fun-filled week here.
Of course, plenty of visitors just want to relax and enjoy days at the beach, but feel free to pick and mix according to your centres of interest. These day-long excursions are ideal if undertaken from Nice, located bang in the centre of the French Riviera, but plenty of them are also feasible if you are based further down the coast, either east or west, as long as you have access to the main railway line.
Since 1946, the Cannes Film Festival has been synonymous with the glitz of the Riviera. Along with the Monaco Grand Prix, which takes place pretty at the same time in May each year, it is one of the major annual events of the French Riviera and really marks the beginning of the summer season.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit Cannes where the jewellery brand I work for, APM Monaco, was sponsoring several events at the 67th edition of the Festival and therefore managed to soak up some of the atmosphere of this legendary event, which I will be sharing in this article. So if you fancy discovering the lowdown on the Festival, finding out what else to see and do in the town and get some practical information on how to cope in Cannes during the festival amongst the crowds, just carry on reading!
The stunning sandy beach of Cannes, just underneath the Croisette promenade
The Old Town of Monaco isn’t really renowned for the quality of its restaurants: between the souvenir shops, you can find snack bars and different restaurants which, without being bad, aren’t particularly memorable, with a few exceptions – until the summer of 2011, when a very notable “exception” opened up.
La Montgolfière isn’t your run of the mill tourist restaurant – if you are looking for very well-executed traditional Mediterranean fare but with a slightly exotic twist and a charming location, this is the place to go. This tiny and very quaint establishment, located on a small pedestrian street in the very heart of the old town of Monaco, a few steps away from the Prince’s Palace and the town hall square, only seats about 20 people and it is staffed exclusively by the Monaco-born chef, Henri Geraci and his wife Fabienne.
Whilst I ran Hotel Notre Dame in Nice, I often got questions from guests asking whether it was worth travelling over to Saint-Tropez and I basically told them no – given the hassle getting there from Nice (either a two hour minimum bus ride in summer traffic or an extortionate boat trip), people wishing to experience a snazzy and sophisticated French Riviera atmosphere could head off to Cannes or Monaco instead in under 30 minutes on the train.
But whilst writing this blog, I recently became curious about the near-mystical attraction that Saint-Tropez has over visitors and that’s why a couple of weeks ago on a bright Sunday morning I decided to get up early, see what all the fuss was about by visiting it from a tourist’s perspective and definitely figure out whether 8 years later, I would have replied the same thing to my guests. So here’s the lowdown on what Saint-Tropez is all about and what to see and do there.